Beginnings With Bruce and Backstrom Birthday Heroics — Retro Recap: Washington Capitals @ Philadelphia Flyers – November 23, 2007

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During the Thanksgiving time frame, Caps fans remember past games that took place around that holiday.  They were especially memorable in 2007. This post looks at the game between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers that took place on the day after Thanksgiving (November 23, 2007) at Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Preview

On November 23, 2007, the day after Thanksgiving, the Capitals traveled to Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) Center to play the Philadelphia Flyers. At the time, the Caps were 6-14-1, which stood as the worst record in the entire league and had lost their previous five games in a row and nine out of their last 10. Their last win, and their only win during the entire month, had come on November 8, ironically enough, against the league-leading Ottawa Senators. Things had reached a point to where fans were demanding then-Head Coach Glen Hanlon’s firing, based on their reaction during a 5-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. The recent poor performance prompted then-General Manager George McPhee to fire Hanlon and elevate Bruce Boudreau, the Head Coach of their American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears, to take his place on an interim basis. The Flyers meanwhile, were 12-7-1 and in second place in the Atlantic Division, just two points behind the division-leading New York Rangers.

For the lineup Boudreau placed rookie center Nicklas Backstrom on the fourth-line with enforcer Donald Brashear and right wing Matt Bradley, continuing the recent trend from his predecessor of having Backstrom play his natural position of Center, even on a lower line (earliler in the season, Backstrom had played as a wing). Another change made by Boudreau, after reviewing tapes with Assistant Coach Jay Leach, was to make a change to the power play alignment, putting defenseman Mike Green on the half wall, left wing Alex Ovechkin in the middle, and Backstrom and Michael Nylander down low. The goalie matchup was Olaf Kolzig for the Caps against Martin Biron of the Flyers.

First Period

The Capitals’ new power play arrangement paid dividends immediately. Less than two minutes into the game, Flyers’ forward Scott Hartnell was called for boarding. During the ensuing power play,  Green scored on a one-timer from the left circle at 2:27 after taking a cross-ice pass from Backstrom, to put the Caps ahead at 1-0. The goal was Green’s fourth of the season; defenseman Tom Poti earned the secondary assist. Just two seconds after Green’s goal, Brashear and the Flyers’ Riley Cote got into a fight. The remainder of the period featured four more penalties (three by the Capitals and one by the Flyers), but there were no more goals during the period. The score going into first intermission was 1-0.

Second Period

At the 3:39 mark of the second frame, then-Capitals captain Chris Clark streaked down the right side and shot from the slot to score his fourth goal of the season, assisted by Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti. Over 10 minutes later, at 14:11, Brashear earned his first goal and first point of the season, deflecting defenseman Shaone Morrisonn’s shot from the point; Backstrom had the secondary assist on the goal that gave the visitors a 3-0 lead.

With about five minutes left in the period, Scott Hartnell laid a hard, crushing shoulder check to the head of Capitals forward Boyd Gordon on open ice. While the hit was legal, Clark took exception to it and picked a fight with Hartnell. As a result of the fight, Clark was assessed 19 minutes in penalties: two for unsportsmanlike conduct, two for instigating, five for fighting and a 10-minute game misconduct. Hartnell himself earned the standard five minutes for fighting. All of Clark’s penalty minutes put the Flyers on a four-minute power play.

Less than a minute later, the Flyers made the Capitals pay for Clark’s infractions when forward Daniel Briere whacked in the puck off Kolzig’s pads at 15:45, getting the Flyers on the board, assisted by Joffrey Lupul and Mike Richards, cutting the deficit to 3-1. While the Capitals killed the second penalty successfully, Flyers forward Jeff Carter scored just four seconds later, chipping a pass from R.J. Umberger and muscling his way past Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz to cut the defenseman to 3-2. The Flyers were assessed a penalty five seconds later, but the Caps were unable to score. The score heading into the second intermission stood at 3-2.

Third Period

The Flyers cranked up the pressure during the third period, scoring the equalizer when Mike Richards shot a rebound past a sprawled Kolzig, assisted by Umberger and Lasse Kukkonen. Tom Poti was assessed a slashing penalty at 17:46, which the Capitals were successfully able to kill off. The score remained tied at 3-3 at the end of regulation, sending the contest to overtime.

 Overtime

Less than two minutes into the overtime period, Alex Ovechkin gathered the puck deep in the Capitals’ zone and blasted it into the Flyers’ end, except he lost a handle on the puck. The puck squirted to a trailing Nicklas Backstrom, who delayed shooting for a moment, waiting for Biron to drop to the ice. Once the opposing goaltender was down, he shot the puck into an open net for the game-winner, sealing the 4-3 victory for Boudreau and his second of the season on his 20th birthday.

Post-Game – Quotes and Reactions

Backstrom said after the game, “I decided I was going to wait out the goalie. It was my best game. I feel good, the whole team felt good.” Backstrom also had two assists, in addition to his game-winning goal, for his first multi-point game of his NHL career.

In the locker room after the game, Ovechkin sneaked behind Backstrom and shoved a shaving cream pie in his face as the other players cracked up. Shaving cream pies in the face were a common way to greet players for birthdays and rookie goal milestones.

With a mischievous smile ,Ovechkin commented, “He [Backstrom] played his best game for us. He make some great passes and score a very important goal for us. This win was very important for us because of the hard situation for our team.”

Boudreau commented after the game, “The fourth-line [of Backstrom, Brashear, and Bradley] was great. I thought they were the best line on the ice.”  He continued and said of Backstrom, “I didn’t realize but he sees the ice so well. The pass to Mike on the first goal and the composure he has is really good in the offensive zone. But like any young guy he’s going to have to learn his own zone. But I thought he was pretty good.”

Boudreau also defended Clark’s fight, as he said, “It’s sticking up for your teammates. That was a good thing, a leadership thing.”

Clark talked about his fight, “I’m not really in any shape to be fighting. But it was a late hit, and Gordo was in a vulnerable position. It’s not the type of thing that goes unnoticed.”

Brooks Laich, who was one of seven Capitals who had played for Boudreau with Hershey in the past remarked, “We had a little extra jump in our step. To get that first win for Bruce, it was just awesome.”

Kolzig, who had 22 saves in the game, added, “Bruce told us to just go out and play. The worst thing you can do as a hockey player is go out and think. We responded. We had a pretty good game against Ottawa [on November 8], but we were more dominating today.”

Game Highlights

Aftermath

The Capitals eventually turned their season around, made the playoffs, and finished first in the Southeast Division with a final record of 43-31-8. The Flyers wound up with a 42-29-11 record, fishing in fourth place in the Atlantic Division. The two teams met in the first round of the playoffs with the Flyers winning the series in seven games. The Flyers ultimately advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins

Further Reading
Box Score of Game from Hockey Reference
Boudreau is Victorious in His Debut
Backstrom’s Overtime Goal Lifts Capitals to 4-3 Victory Over Flyers
11 Years After Goal Started it All  Nicklas Backstrom Celebrates Another Birthday
Nicklas Backstrom Turns 30
A Look Back at the Washington Capitals 2007-2008 Season
Ten Years Ago Capitals Appoint Boudreau Head Coach
Best Moments of Bruce Boudreaus First Year in Washington

About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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